GNS Field Meeting, Coombe Hill, 18 October 2023

Today’s field meeting was something of an experiment, in that it was held on a morning in midweek, rather than at the weekend. Six members visited the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust’s Coombe Hill Meadows reserve, in the hope of seeing early wintering waterbirds and passerines.

There was as yet no flooding, but the scrapes were full of water, and indeed levels had risen slightly in the last week; after a very late hay cut this year, some of the grass not being cut until well into September because of morose summer weather, the cattle were still out on many fields, doing a useful job in controlling the grass and thus encouraging the excellent hay meadow vegetation.

In a willow, one of whose branches had cracked, it was interesting to note a hornet nest, with a few of its inhabitants still active (in previous years, they had built their nest inside the Grundon Hide, which can be disconcerting for human visitors). A group of about 20 Fieldfares were in the tops of the trees along the canal, the first arrivals (probably from Scandinavia) of these winter thrushes. From the Grundon Hide, excellent views were obtained of a range of waterbirds. The most obvious were the mixed flock of Canada and Greylag Geese, numbering roughly a couple of hundred, which had stayed to graze on the lush grass round the scrapes; later in the winter, these numbers will swell and may pass the thousand mark, producing a noisy and impressive wildlife spectacle. Numbers of wintering ducks are gradually increasing: up to 25 Wigeon were now present, grazing with the geese, together with perhaps 200 Teal and 20 Shoveler; most of these ducks were still in the eclipse plumage which they adopt during the moulting period in late summer and early autumn, so as to be less obvious to predators; in a few weeks’ time, they will increase in numbers and resume their full colourful plumage. Two or three Cormorants were also present, some fishing in the scrapes, some sitting on the island with their wings held out to dry. Rather few waders were present as yet, they will need a little more floodwater: as it was, just two or three Lapwings were present, together with a cryptically coloured Snipe, hiding in the bank vegetation. The most surprising sighting was from the heron/egret family: as many as five Great White Egrets were feeding in the grass, to the considerable displeasure of a long-standing resident Grey Heron, who repeatedly tried to chase them away. Great White Egrets are only a recent addition to the county’s avifauna, moving northwards from the Mediterranean, no doubt under the effect of climate change. A couple of winters ago, there were up to a dozen together on gravel pits further up the Severn in Worcestershire, but this is probably the largest group so far recorded at Coombe Hill.

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